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Honor is best known for its affordable smartphones like the Honor 20, which launched in May. (Picture: AP)

Huawei’s first TV is a ‘smartphone that’s 100 times bigger’

Smartphone brands like Xiaomi, OnePlus and Honor take fight to smart TVs and the Internet of Things

This article originally appeared on ABACUS

We give hours of attention to our smartphones every day, making it the most important personal device in most people’s lives. Huawei has taken note, and it hopes its new TV will be the center of attention when users are at home.

“Think of it as a smartphone that’s 100 times bigger,” Honor president Zhao Ming told Chinese media after announcing the company's first “smart display.” Even though descriptions of the new device sound a lot like a smart TV, Zhao said it’s “not a TV, but the future of TV.”

The aim, according to Zhao, is for the new device to be “the emotional center of the family” that will “bring family members back to their living room.” He also said that it will be a hub for sharing information and interacting with multiple devices.

With little else to go on, nobody knows yet what the TV will look like. Honor, Huawei’s sub-brand that makes smartphones and a range of other gadgets, hasn’t disclosed any of the TV’s features. Zhao only said that it will be released in August.

Honor is best known for its affordable smartphones like the Honor 20, which launched in May. (Picture: AP)

But Zhao’s vision for the new product doesn’t sound significantly different from what other smart TVs already offer. They have apps like those on our smartphones, can be used with voice assistants and can be integrated with other smart home devices.

There’s probably a reason for the current uniformity of the smart TV experience, though. Trying to reimagine it and get consumers to go along is pretty difficult. 

This is what US-based Vizio found out after it launched a TV in 2016 that used a dedicated tablet in lieu of a traditional remote, offloading the TV’s smarts to the tablet and making Google Cast central to the TV experience. By the next year, Vizio had already reversed course, ditching the tablet and offering something more akin to the smart TVs we all know.
The stakes are high in China’s TV market, though. It’s shaping up to be the next battlefield for China’s smartphone makers as global smartphone shipments continue to decline.
Xiaomi, which has a number of smart home devices in its ecosystem, is already leading the smart TV market in China and India.
OnePlus, a sister brand of Vivo and Oppo, is also working on a smart TV, which company CEO Pete Lau revealed last September. The TV is expected to launch soon, with a Bluetooth certification listing for a OnePlus remote control spotted last week.

OnePlus, the Chinese smartphone startup that made a mark in the West

Smartphone makers like Xiaomi and OnePlus that venture into TVs are more likely to embrace new technology and come up with creative use cases, IDC’s Sophie Pan told Abacus last September. Chinese TV vendors are competitive globally because they tend to have a wide range of products with competitive pricing, she added.

However much the new Honor TV resembles other smart TVs, it might be able to offer at least one thing that can’t be found anywhere else. The South China Morning Post reported that the TV will likely be the first Huawei product to use the company’s homegrown Hongmeng operating system, which came to light after Huawei faced a ban on using Google’s Android apps and services. Huawei executives have said in multiple media interviews that Hongmeng is an OS for Internet of Things products and that it could hit the market as soon as this fall.

This could be a safer bet for Huawei than launching Hongmeng on a smartphone. Smart TVs are at least one way to get a new OS to gain some traction.

This is the route Samsung eventually went with its Tizen OS, and it’s now the most-used smart TV OS with more than a fifth of the market, according to Strategy Analytics. LG’s webOS is in second place with 12% and Google finally shows up in third place with Android TV being shipped on 10% of smart TVs.

For more insights into China tech, sign up for our tech newsletters, subscribe to our Inside China Tech podcast, and download the comprehensive 2019 China Internet Report. Also roam China Tech City, an award-winning interactive digital map at our sister site Abacus.